Thursday, November 19, 2015

Another Word for World, by Ann Leckie

Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, 2015; ~14,000 words
Rating: 4, Recommended  Recommended By:    SFEP

Ashiban's attempts to negotiate peace with the Sovereign of Iss get off to a bad start when someone shoots down their flyer. They try to evade pursuit, having no idea which side staged the attack.

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: At the start, Ashiban wants to negotiate a peace deal, and for most of the story, she just wants to find help, but by the end, she's found a new purpose, and so has the Sovereign.

The story develops Ashiban and the Sovereign's limits gradually. By the time they meet the settlers, we're not surprised that they get little respect and no support, with the same result from the Gidantans.

The background has been set for the fact that the Terraforming Council is the real government on the planet, and that Ashiban's people have been talking to the wrong people all along, owing to a translation error, so it's mildly satisfying when that turns out to be true.

It's nice to see a story that recognizes that computer translations systems have inherent problems. And it's very nice that the conclusion is that the Sovereign and Ashiban are going to focus on making better translators--not on stirring up a war or anything like that.

Con: A whole generation is a long time for a translation error to persist. There should have been some number of bilingual children able to clarify things. There's always someone who's super-enthusiastic about learning the other language, reading the papers and the literature, etc.

2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Minor correction: the title of the Gidanta priestess is "Sovereign of Iss".

    As I understand it, the reason Ashiban's mother's translations remained unrevised for so long is that the production of translation machines and official interpretation were in the hands of people who, due to both political reasons and inertia, did not want to change them. Ashiban said "We can't be the first to notice this", and the Raksamat settlers did immediately start learning Gidanta; but firstly, there had been limited contact between the two populations, and secondly, political power was in the hands of only a few on both sides (a continuing theme throughout the story). So all that has changed at the end is an added impetus to break the status quo.

    I think it is a very good story, showing how much analysis of politics can be fitted into a strongly traditional, action-filled narrative.

    1. Thanks for the correction!

      I thought it was a very good story too. I'll stand by my earlier claim that it's weird that no one knew about the translation problems, though. I did see the explanations in the story, but I didn't think they were adequate. It didn't spoil the story, of course; no story is perfect.